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Current Debates in Medieval and Early Modern History II


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


In this course we will examine two current debates in the history of medieval and early modern Europe. The aim of the literature seminars is both to let students get acquainted with historiographical developments and have them think about the production of historical knowledge itself. We will therefore not just be charting how historical debates develop, but crucially also investigate why they do so.

Part I: Bureaucracy (Stein, weeks 1-3)
In this part of the seminar we will address one of the most neglected topics in history, the rise of bureaucracy. In the late middle ages and early modern period bureaucrats appeared as a new type of servant appeared in the princely councils, first as assistants to the feudal councilors but more and more often replacing them. Taking John Sabapathy’s, Officers and Accountability as a starting point, we will discuss the rise of the civil servant and the spread and impact of bureaucratization, in time and in geographical and social space. We will also discuss the role of change agents and the importance of isomorphism in this respect.

Part II: Cross-cultural diplomacy in the Mediterranean World, 1600-1800 (Ebben, weeks 5-7)
The study of early modern diplomacy has long been one of the most conservative subdisciplines in the field of history. During the last three decades, however, diplomatic history has undergone profound changes. These changes were triggered by developments in other disciplines and happened under the influence of the cultural turn. These gave rise to a range of innovations in diplomatic history, leading historians to focus on the diplomatic process and its cultural dimensions rather than on the results of diplomatic activity. Diplomatic historians now acknowledge that in early modern times international relations were no monopoly of the state or the sovereign and that they made use of the services of independent interest groups or individuals. Groundbreaking cross-cultural studies on trade history have helped diplomatic historians to integrate relations of European powers with non-European counterparts into their field of interest and to recognize that diplomacy is not an exclusive European affair. Diplomats and independent interest groups and individuals smoothed the way for exchange and negotiations across significant cultural, religious and linguistic divides. Recently scholars have paid a growing attention to European formal and informal political contacts with the Ottoman world. This seminar will study the recent results in the field of cross-cultural diplomatic interactions of Europeans with non-European counterparts in the Mediterranean World.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 2) The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  • 3) The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • 4) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 5) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  • 6) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Europe 1000-1800: broader processes of political, social and cultural identity formation between about 1000-1800; awareness of problems of periodisation and impact of ‘national’ historiographical traditions on the field.

  • 7) (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student:

  • 8) Will have a thorough knowledge of two current historiographical debates on cross-cultural interactions in medieval and early modern history: one related to bureaucracy, the other to diplomacy.

  • 9) Understands the complexity of these debates in terms of the use of historical concepts; has the capacity to engage with current debates on the possibilities and complications of the concepts of bureaucracy and diplomacy.

  • 10) Will be able to develop her/his own critical view of a specific aspect of these debates through oral presentations and written papers, based on the reading of several recent monographs and a selection of articles.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Participation in group discussion
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6, 8-10 (ResMA also 5)

  • Short presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10

  • Essay or critical review
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 7)


  • Written essay/critical reflection: 70%

  • Oral presentation and participation: 30%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written essay must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.

Reading list

Part I:

  • John Sabapathy, Officers and Accountability in Medieval England, 1170-1300 (Oxford 2014).

  • A series of papers by M. Jones and Dimaggio & Powell will be made available online.

Part II:

  • J. Black, A history of diplomacy (Londen 2010)
    Journal of Early Modern History 19, 2-3 (2015) Cross-Confessional Diplomacy and Diplomatic Intermediaries in the Early Modern Mediterranean.

  • Additional reading to be announced.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. R. Stein Dr. M. Ebben


Not applicable.